Comparisons between Motorola’s Droid and the iPhone 3GS were inevitable. In fact, comparisons between every high-profile smartphone that has been released in the past six months and the iPhone have pretty much come to pass (i.e. myTouch 3G, HTC Hero, BlackBerry Storm2). And yet, are these comparisons at all helpful?
As Verizon’s gazillion-dollar marketing campaign for the Droid points out, the Droid does a lot of things the iPhone doesn’t. Similarly, the iPhone does a lot of things very differently than the Droid and in a way that no one, including Motorola, has duplicated.
Part of the problem inherent in comparisons between the iPhone and anything else is Apple has effectively indoctrinated legions of consumers with a set of very deliberate features, commands and general expectations. While the Droid may succeed in stealing some market share from Apple, it’s simply not going to convert a significant number of loyal iPhone users who have become accustomed to a very unique kind of simplicty.
Regardless of these reservations, I began by noting the inevitability of comparisons between the iPhone and the Droid, so I’ll proceed in that spirit. Here’s the rundown on how the Motorola Droid stacks up against the iPhone 3GS.
Any iPhone user who refutes the Droid’s superiority in the nitty-gritty specs department has simply drank too much of Apple’s home-brewed cider. The Droid offers a 5-megapixel camera with a flash. The iPhone offers a 3-megapixel camera and no flash. That may not seem like a big difference until you try to make a print of that photo you just snapped on your iPhone. Go any bigger than a 4 x 6 and you’re risking a very grainy photo.
The Droid also trumps the iPhone with its 16GB removable memory, which can be upgraded to 32GB. iPhone users are subjected to minor torture with the knowledge that their device has as much capacity on the day they take it out of the box as it ever will. However, the cloud is easing that pain, with certain services allowing storage for pictures, messages and even music.
The Droid’s battery gives users an extra 1.4 hours of talk time over the iPhone’s 5 hours. However, battery life on a smartphone can vary by the user’s sophistication. Smartphone users of all brands realize that shutting off Wi-Fi or 3G, as well as adjusting screen brightness, can dramatically improve battery life. Nevertheless, most iPhone users would give their left arm for an extra 1.4 hours of juice.
While the Droid offers a slide-out qwerty, it subsequently suffers the fate of a moving part and the myriad bad things that can go wrong when anything on one of these devices moves (i.e., the Palm Pre’s reported “Oreo” condition). It’s a preferential consideration, but the iPhone’s virtual keyboard is generally well received and lack of a slide-out adds to the iPhone’s sturdiness.
It would be foolish to approach the merits of a device’s hardware without considering the overall package. The way a device feels in the hand is one of the iPhone’s gleaming successes. The iPhone’s slick screen, one-piece design and all around smooth surfaces add up to a device that everyone wants to touch. In this arena, the Droid is also impressive, however, quite heavy. It’s boxier than the iPhone, to be sure, but nonetheless a nice design effort by Motorola.
Here’s the crux of the argument against comparisons. The majority of iPhone users are going to walk away from the Droid feeling frustrated. However, those who just came off a mid-range smartphone will be delighted. The Droid really does have a fairly intuitive UI. It employs certain swipe gestures and easily accessible pre-loaded Google services, including the Android Marketplace, that make it a really great and competitive addition to the smartphone market.
But let’s be honest about the comparison we’re making. Next time you’re out in public, look around and see how many young kids are playing on their parent’s iPhone or iPod touch. The multi-touch, swipe and pinch-to-zoom gestures and commands made so popular by Apple perfectly lend themselves to the tactile impulses of the world’s millions of bored children waiting for their parents to finish dinner in a restaurant. The continuity of Apple’s easy-to-locate icons and menus are equally well received by children.
While geeks everywhere decry Apple’s over-simplification of technology, consumers hold such ease with adoration and idolatry. Droid parents simply won’t find it as easy to hand their 5-year-old their phone and say, “Here, go wild.” It’s true that not every parent wants a phone that can babysit, but the example aims at highlighting the ease of Apple’s UI. And the UI that finds its way into children’s hands with the consent of the parent is not only the superior UI but also the one that wins the most market share in the long run.
WHERE THE iPHONE FAILS
For all its merits, the iPhone has made many a wrong turn. In fact, take one trip from door to door using the Droid’s pre-installed Google Navigation service and you’ll understand why an open-source operating system backed by Google can be one seriously amazing attribute for a smartphone maker. You’ll also understand why stocks of companies that make portable navigation systems tanked the day the Droid arrived.
But the iPhone’s deficits don’t stop there. The Droid’s deep integration of Google’s free services, including Google Voice, points to the more general realization that Apple’s gate-keeper mentality could be the company’s Achilles heel going forward. While the FCC may be a pain in many a side as it preaches any app, any device, on any network, that’s exactly the future for which most consumers are hoping. While that ideal may never be achieved, the Droid comes closer than the iPhone does. Ultimately, it will be money that breaks things open for everyone. It always is. And as it stands, only consumers’ wallets have the power to topple Apple’s walled garden now.
WITH WHICH TO STUFF THY STOCKING
In the end, both of these devices are technological marvels. The Droid makes a relic of that old bar phone sitting in the junk drawer at home. Both the iPhone 3GS and the Droid are at the pinnacle of technology. The lucky person who receives either one in their stocking this holiday season will no doubt find one reason or another to shout with glee (until they get the monthly bill, of course).
However, if you’re an iPhone user who, for one reason or another, has decided to “go Droid,” you might not be quite as happy as the person who just tossed their LG VU in favor of the Droid that just came down the chimney. Does that make the iPhone a better phone? Perhaps. Closer to the truth may be that the smartphone market is finally seeing some diversity, and quality, in a market that was standardized by Apple’s revolutionary smartphone.